Rabbitbrush Rambler: Happy days, sad days

We need holidays and vacations to help us refresh and get through the realities of life that await around the next corner, so it’s little wonder that next weekend will bring an outburst of relaxation and summer fun.

This release of energy is easy to see at school graduations. After the dignified commencement addresses and the awarding of diplomas, college graduates throw their mortar boards and anything else in the air, and little kids, without a backward glance, stream out school doors in anticipation of all the fun they’re going to have, even if an hour later they’ll be wondering what to do.  

Consider the crowds that will visit Great Sand Dunes on Memorial Day Weekend. After the initial surge of visitors, not to mention the surge in Medano Creek, the park settles down to more manageable numbers. The season’s opener for train rides is that weekend also.

Then there will be so many things to look forward to in summertime — hiking and biking in the mountains, a wedding or a reunion and backyard barbecues, local celebrations like Manassa’s Pioneer Days, Monte Vista’s Ski Hi rodeo, church feast days like San Juan’s or Santa Ana’s, plays at Creede, and, of course, Summer Fest on the Rio, musical evenings, and Early Iron in Cole Park. Who wants to think about serious stuff?

Memorial Day ceremonies with solemnities in cemeteries are the “serious stuff.” But let’s face it, compared to the fun stuff, patriotic ceremonies are a hard sell even on the Fourth of July except for the parades and fireworks.

Next Monday is Memorial Day, and organizations are ensuring that each veteran’s grave will be marked with a flag, and  caretakers and families are cleaning up weeds and placing fresh flowers and decorations where they are permitted. On Memorial Day the Colorado State Veterans Center will have its moving ceremony. Del Norte’s museum opened a new exhibit about Civil War veterans last weekend, too.

Veterans of the Civil War have been honored with observances since 1866, the year after the conflict ended. In 1868 and for many years thereafter the commemorations were called Decoration Day, with the name gradually changing to Memorial Day. Since World War I, the event has recognized all who have died in the military service of the United States.

In 1971 Memorial Day was established as an official holiday. Next it was changed to the last Monday in May, instead of the last day of the month, so it is now part of a three-day holiday spree when everyone leaves town, like so many other holidays when their meanings are forgotten in the hoopla.

Although the veterans of every war should be remembered, the Civil War was especially horrifying. Casualties numbered 646,352, with 364,431 of them being deaths. To get a better understanding of what those horrendous figures mean, consider that the entire population in the United States in 1860 was a little less than 31,500,000. Do the math.

Nearly one in every 100 people in this country died during the Civil War, taking a terrible toll in numbers. We still live with the effects in our nation’s psyche.

I could go back further in time to the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). The numbers may not sound so huge, but consider the small population of the future United States at that time. My dad, a patriotic member of the Sons of the American Revolution, reminded us kids about such facts.    

He served in World War I, his son in WW II and in Korea, and the drumbeat of warfare still goes on. We must find another way for people to settle conflicting interests, if we are going to claim that we are civilized.